29 August 2012

cedar post edging

I had been keeping my eye out for border edging ideas and came across this:

Photo: Donna Griffith, Canadian Gardening 'Summer 2012' issue

The back yard already has a lot of landscape rock going on, and I think it would be too busy to line the entire border with it.  It's tough to make that much rock look 'natural' in a fairly confined space.  I couldn't just have the grass next to garden, because the the border has a steep slope and the soil had to be retained somehow.

Up until now, there has just been a slope of barkmulch.

I thought this would be the kind of easy project that I could take on all by myself.  Cut out a straight line in the grass, stagger a couple 4x4's on top of each other, drill a hole here and there and pound in some rebar to keep them in place.  I was wrong, as usual, but luckily I have a good looking carpenter that doesn't mind "helping" me with projects every so often. 

This project involved laying out a string line, cutting back the sod to align perfectly with it, leveling out the soil where the posts were to be buried, measuring out the posts to have a nice staggered effect, and then screwing the posts together from the back so you don't see them once the space is back-filled with soil.  We still have to drill holes and pound in some pieces of rebar so the posts stay put once plants start growing. If you know what you're doing, you could have this little project done in a day. 

I got talked out of chopping down this tree, not sure what kind it is, but i'm kind of glad we kept it.  The box around it adds a bit of interest.  I will probably end up chopping it down sooner or later and replacing it with a Magnolia or something of the sort, but in the meantime I'm okay with it. 

 Not a good photo, but this is the adjacent side of the yard. 

I'm pumped that this will be finished before the Fall planting season sets in!  The best time to plant perennials is in the Fall so that they can develop a good root system for the next year.  The garden won't look spectacular right away, but in Spring it will be well worth it.  Plus the cedar will be a little more aged and sun-bleached by then.  I love that look of aged weathered cedar.  I didn't want to go with pressure-treated wood because of the chemicals and because it doesn't give the same look of natural wood.  So although it won't last as long, I'm sure it will last until I can think of something better!

Oh, who am I kidding.  You can see right through me, can't you?  I just wanted more garden space so I can make room for the throngs of plants I'll be purchasing next month.  Can't get enough! 

20 August 2012

perfect pairing: Cotinus coggyria 'Royal Purple' + Crocosmia 'Emberglow'

One of my favorite combinations in the summer garden, purple smokebush and crocosmia.  I love how the red-tinged leaves of the smokebush pick up on the delicate buds of the crocosmia. I copied this combo from my mom's garden but have also seen similar at a nursery display, except with the use of a green Switchgrass in place of the crocosmia.  The smokebush alone might not seem like an extrodinary specimen, but once combined with a striking accent, it completely pops!

17 August 2012

a conversation with myself

A typical conversation between myself and my voice of reason.  For simplicity sake, said ‘voice of reason’ will henceforth be referred to as ‘R’.

A: I should just pop into the nursery on my way home from today.  I don’t have any other pressing plans and it’s a beautiful day just to walk around and enjoy the sights.
R: Oh, is there a particular plant that you are looking to buy?
A:  No, but I wouldn’t mind looking at the canna lilies that are in bloom right now to narrow down my choices for when I buy bulbs next year. 
R: Don’t even think about buying a canna lily at this time of year.
A: Now that you mention it, I do have some empty space next to one of the dayliles.
R: That is the worst spot for them, they grow at least 3 feet high and need way more sun than that area.  Forget it.
A:  I'll just have to look.  What’s wrong with just looking?
R:  Don’t do it.
A: (to nursery owner) “Do you have any cannas in stock right now?”
                                  “No, we actually didn’t grow any this year, and I’m not sure that we will be
                                    getting them in!"
R:  Perfect, that’s our cue to exit.  Now.
A:  I might as well have look around,  now that I’m already here.
R:  I see where this is going.
A:  I really do need something for in front of the coral bark maple at the front entrance. 
R:  So that's why we came here, then?  Not to look at canna lilies?
A:  Curb appeal is everything, and right now the front garden is just incomplete without something in front of the maple.
R:  I agree, but let's do some research first and come back with a plan of exactly what we need.
A:  That would be the smartest way of doing things.
R:  Oh, but not your way, right?
A:  (eyeing up the beautiful foliage of Lobelia 'Russian Princess')
R:  Put it back.  It's the worst time of year to plant perennials and this would not work in the shade of the front entrance garden in front of the maple.
A:  (reading tag) Hmm..well it does say part shade to full sun.  But I know it won't work with the yuccas, euphorbias, sedums, and hebes.
R:  You got it, let's get out of here.
A:  But what about the back garden?
R:  Oh, where you wanted to put the cannas?  Good thinking.
A:  Well, I could always move them next year when I actually plant the canna bulbs.
R:  Where to?  The vegetable bed which has somehow turned into the temporary holding space for other perennials that you don't know what to do with?  The one that you actually want to start using to grow lettuce and carrots and radishes and cucumbers?
A:  But if I don't buy it today, what if I never find it again?  I will always regret how I didn't buy this beautiful plant with amazing foliage and striking fluorescent purple blooms from July-September.
R:  You will have forgotten about it by tomorrow.
A:  It's only $8.99, plus all perennials right now are 30% off!
R:  Yes, because only people as dumb as you are buying more plants right now, when the forecast is for the mid-30's this weekend.  Great time to buy, yes.

I came home with three.  This happens weekly.  The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right?

14 August 2012

taste of the tropics: abyssinian banana

This year was my first attempt at growing a tropical specimen that I will have to overwinter inside.  I bought it at about 6 inches tall in April or May, and it was fairly slow to start.  With the heat we've been having lately, however, there seems to be a new leaf unfurling each day.

It's not cold-hardy unlike its cousin the Japanese Banana Tree 'Musa basjoo', but I find the leaf colour variations much more intriguing, and maybe worth the extra effort in digging it up and hauling it inside at first frost.  I've read that some people only dig them up the first year because they grow so vigorously in the second and third years that they become too large to store.  If that's the case, then so be it, because at only $10 for a starter plant I'm willing to give it a try!  The leaves of the Red Abyssinian Banana Tree 'Ensete ventricosum' are deep burgundy and olive green, and can reach up to 6' long on a 20' trunk.  I don't think I'll have to worry about mine ever getting that big in this zone but I'm hoping it will get up to about 6 feet by next summer.

I have it currently next to the birdbath, surrounded by some Pheasant's Tail grasses, a Calla lily, and a Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'.  I'm going to throw in some dwarf Canna lilies next spring to compliment this lush combination.  I know there are plenty of other cold-hardy options that would thrive in this space and even provide some winter interest, but growing tender plants provides a feeling of accomplishment because they need a lot more TLC.  Maybe I will change my mind next year after carting a cumbersome pot out of the crawlspace but as of now I am enjoying the fruits of my labor!

Below, one of my inspiration photos from you guessed it-- the much revered 'Pinterest'.

Photo by Rob Cardillo at the Chanticleer Gardens in Philadelphia.

Also, totally unrelated, but the baby owl stopped by for a visit again just now.  It was holding its wings in a strange position but it seemed to be okay.  You can see the ear tufts already have almost fully developed.

9 August 2012

august - what's blooming now

I like doing these monthly bloom updates; it keeps me thinking about how important it is to have year-round interest with perennials.  Timing and color combination is everything (and often the hardest part in planning a new border)!

Starting clockwise from the top-left is Echinacea 'Coconut Lime' which I mentioned just picking up a few weeks ago.  I need a macro lens to show you the white spider that lives in the stamen of these flowers.  There is also one of these spiders that live in each white calla lily bloom, and they blend in perfectly.  To the right is Hemerocallis 'Sweet Hot Chocolate', a deep burgundy variety that goes well with the nearby Acer palmatum 'Emperor'.  I have four new varieties of daylilies this year and this one has so far been the most reliable performer!

I pick up fuschia baskets every year for the front entrance, the flowers are so intricate they never cease to amaze me.  The texture is like silk ribbon perfectly woven into a beautiful bow, and to top it off they bloom profusely from around May until September.  I believe this particular double-flowering variety is called 'Blue Eyes'.

Bottom right: August would not be the same in the garden without at least a few dahlias.  Constantly reliable and fairly easy to grow, all they ask for is some staking (especially the dinner-plate varieties) and deep watering a couple times a week.  I don't even lift the tubers as most people do at first frost--they come back happily each year. Not sure of the name of this particular cultivar, the tuber was split from my mom's garden and was probably passed down a few generations. 

Another dahlia, this one at Butchart's a couple weeks back.

8 August 2012

concrete birdbath

My new birdbath...

 I have two in the front yard but really wanted some kind of hardscape accessory for the backyard garden.  I've had my eye on this one from Restoration Hardware, but at more than $400 with shipping, it was a little out of the question.

I think this one is a decent compromise.  Now just waiting for the birds to take notice...

7 August 2012

concrete firepit

 This has been the major project of the summer so far.  Since building the new fence last year, we had this big empty space in the backyard that we weren't too sure what to do with. 

I loved the idea of putting in some kind of firepit so that we could actually sit outside and enjoy the space on cool nights, but I didn't love the idea of woodpiles and smoke and hot ashes close to a dry forest (not to mention the fact that there are major restrictions on open wood fires in our residential area).

And then along came Pinterest

I'm telling you, if men had any smarts they would have somehow figured out a way to firewall this website from every home computer.

A natural gas concrete firepit sounded like it just might fit exactly what I had in mind.  We already had a gasline moved outside to allow for a future BBQ hookup, so all we had to do was put a T in the line and extend it out to where we wanted the firepit.  Well, maybe it wasn't that easy.  Here's what we did:

  1. Dig an 18'' deep trench from the side of the house to the firepit location for the gas line.  Props to my sister for doing this terrible job.
  2. Bury your copper line and cover with 'DANGER' tape and then with sand.  Dealing with natural gas is dangerous stuff so we consulted with a certified installer before doing this part.  We hired him to do the connections and hookups and I would not recommend trying to do this part yourself. 
  3. Purchase a natural gas burner kit.  The only round one I could find was made by 'Kingsman'.  You can check out the specs here if you're interested in a gas firepit of your own.  
  4. Since we had the burner plate, we could now draw out a plan with an appropriate diameter.  We decided on 18'' high, 3'' thick walls, with a total outside diameter of 36''.  
  5. Build a concrete form.  You will need a carpenter or some kind of handyman to do this job.  It was fairly labor intensive and I really have no idea how to explain this part. Basically you have to build an outside form and an inside form, and then use 1/8'' plywood and bend it around each of the two forms.
  6.  Drill holes for drainage and gasline, and bend a ton of rebar to minimize chances for concrete cracking.
  7. Mix and pour concrete.  We used about 12 bags believe it or not. Wait at least 24 hours and then strip your concrete of the wood forms. 
  8. Get your gas contractor to hook up the lines, put in a shutoff valve, and then you can figure out the height that your burner plate should be at.  I just used gravel underneath to make it the right height.  Top the burner with purchased gel-cast ceramic logs or rocks.  These are expensive, but you have to use them.  A small box of rocks costs about $150, but they will not turn black with the heat, and there is no risk of cracking or bursting.  I know that $150 for fake rocks sounds ridiculous, but do not use real rocks!

Before and after:

 Not too bad, huh.  Ignore those terrible plastic Adirondack chairs.  Although they are comfy as heck, I cannot stand plastic outdoor furniture.  We are in the midst of building new cedar chairs...update to come on that little project!

I am already spending way more time outside than ever before.  Heat makes every evening worth spending outdoors, plus it keeps the mosquitoes at bay. 

3 August 2012

robin fledglings

Spotted this little robin peeking out of its nest this morning, no doubt waiting for mom to return with a mouthful of earthworms.  I think there's two in the nest, and this one is significantly larger than the other.  It looks like another few days before they leave the nest. 

Of the three nests built each year, only about 40% of them produce young, and only 25% of those survive past November.  Kind of sad but that's nature!


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